Should You Apply For A Job You’re Not Qualified For?

By Gerald Walsh ©

Years ago, I met a young environmental engineer who had just graduated from university. He had come from an informational interview with an engineering firm, who met with him only as a courtesy, as they had no openings.

This young man was excited after meeting them. He said to me, “I know I can help them.” I liked his confidence and suggested he write a business plan explaining how he could add value to the firm.

We both knew it was a long-shot but why not try?

To his credit, he produced a 15-page plan that documented what he could do. Luckily, the firm was willing to meet him again. They listened to his case, read his plan, and lo and behold, decided to hire him in a junior engineering position.

It was this young engineer’s initiative that got him hired. It got me thinking:

What should you do if you see a job you are interested in but under-qualified for? Should you just pass on it (like most people do)? Or, is there something you can do to get the employer to consider you even though you might not have all the qualifications?

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Remember that most job postings describe the “ideal” candidate.

When writing job ads, employers often shoot for the stars by describing the perfect candidate for the job. But in most cases that perfect candidate is not out there. So, don’t be discouraged. If you meet many of the qualifications but not all, you should still apply for the job.

Play up your transferrable skills and explain how they relate to the job requirements.

Surprisingly, most people have difficulty explaining their own skills and abilities. As a result they under-value themselves when writing cover letters or answering interview questions.

For example, communication, interpersonal, leadership and teamwork skills can be applied in almost any job. So list your skills and explain (in your cover letter or resume) how they apply.

Demonstrate how you can add value.

Rather than just telling the hiring manager what you can do, show them. For example, you might consider preparing a short presentation with ideas that you would bring to the role?

Most candidates won’t make the extra effort. By going above and beyond, it will show you’re serious about the role and force the hiring managers to look at you as a serious candidate.

Try using a functional resume.

Most people use a chronological resume. However there are times when a functional resume would suit you better.

A functional resume does not list your work history in any order. Rather, it groups all of your experiences into functional areas (like leadership, human resources, finance, etc.) and then lists what you have done and your accomplishments under each of those functions.

Explain how your volunteer experience gives you the necessary skills and experience to do the job.

Don’t undervalue the skills, experience and contacts you gained through volunteer work. Although unpaid, it is still a great way to develop skills, gain experience, and boost your career.

If you are a recent graduate and just launching your career, think about how group projects in school may have given you team building and conflict resolution skills. Or how making presentations helped build your confidence and communication skills.  

Be likeable.

Employers want to hire people they like and whom they feel will be a good fit in their company. If you make good eye contact, smile naturally, listen well, and vary your voice tone, you will come across as authentic and trustworthy.

Find someone to advocate on your behalf.

If you know someone who works at the company or who is a key supplier or customer, ask them to put in a good word for you. All things being equal, employers prefer to hire someone with whom they have a connection, even if it’s an extended one.

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So the next time you see a great job that is just slightly out of your reach, don’t write yourself off. Give it a shot. You might be surprised.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh